Friday, 31 December 2010

Looking for Timber

I went for a walk in the woods looking out for suitable wood.
Hornbeam is on my list of woods to try, I found a piece which wasn't growing very well and was in danger of coming down, it was a bit spindly and damaged at ground level, covered in small masses of tiny shoots. I cut it close to the ground so that it can regrow.
I'm pretty hopefull it's Hornbeam but I can go and look at the rest of the tree when it's in leaf later in the year. I've run it through the bandsaw and it might make a couple of interesting flat primitive bows with bags of character, it will be a bit of a challenge, but it will be nice to try a different wood.
I figured that by cutting today Dec 31st 2010, come this time tomorrow it will have had a years seasoning already!

I s'pose I should sumarise the highs and lows of 2010.
Getting the bandsaw was a good move, that log I got today probably wouldn't have split with axe and wedges.
A low was when the Ash flat bow suddenly changed it's tiller, but learning about heat treating to re-work the bow became a high.
The Hawthorn bow (which is in the corner of shame) was a big dissapointment, but I may be able to re-work it for someone who has just started shooting.
I think my favourite bow was possibly the last one I made (see October's entries)... but maybe we all think our last was our best?
The other contender was the primitive Yew bow (see June).

The effort I've put into this blog and my website has been well worth it, as over the year I've made contact with loads of interesting people and met a few of them too, which has been great.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Back to it!

I'm back to the tinkering, Ive been reducing the sapwood on a Yew stave and reading the Traditional Bowyers Bible vol IV which my Son got me for Christmas.
There's been a lot of traffic on the archery websites chatting about meets, swapping staves and suchlike.
Dunno if it's just me but there seems an upsurge in interest in bowmaking, or maybe there's just easier communication about it these days. The internet has certaily made life easier, I've been planning a nice big order for arrow shafts, fletchings, points and string making material I may try and get it in before vat goes up.
Hmmm, don't s'pose I'd care if I was a millionaire like most of the cabinet... (a little bit of politics there as Ben Elton used to say) I pledge I won't make anymore political comments.
I think it's going to be a busy year in 2011!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Seasons Greeting

Blimey, this cold snap makes it too cold to work in the garage, so I'm about done for the year.
I hope you all have a great break and don't get stuck due to the weather.
If you're out walking off your Christmas diner keep an eye out for good bow timber!
Hope 2011 is kind to you all, see you then.
Derek (Del the Cat)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Yew Longbow & Staves

The nice fine grained Yew is still putting up a fight, I finally got it back to 40 pounds at 27".
It shoots nicely but is trying it's damnedest to twist, so the back of the bow is almost rotated 45 degrees. I'm persevering and I've steamed it once more to get the limbs in line and I'm going to try heat treating it, hoping this will add a few pounds and also stabilise the bow it it's correct alignment.
I did have high hopes for this bow, but although it will be handsome there are a couple of longitudinal cracks still showing from the seasoning which I was hoping would have dissapeared as I worked it down, these aren't a problem but they don't look nice.
The cracks have been treated with a secret old bowyers preparation, which I'll tell you about as long as you keep it under your hat....
Ok, shhh don't tell... high quality, low viscosity superglue. Yeah, ok, it's not very traditional, but it's very effective, it gets drawn into the crack by capillary action and prevents any water ingress, it also helps show up the extent of the crack as it forms a blackish line, not pretty, but it's better to know the extent rather than to plough on in blind optimism.
It's very handy for sealing and stabilising fine pin knots too.
Now I realise that this may sound really horrible trick, but rest assured it's sensible to use the best and most appropriate tools and materials, the right glue for the right job, and I still use old fashioned hide glue for some things.
Of course superglue won't fix a broken bow or mend a chrysal or a transverse crack, but a longitudinal split due to the natural drying of the wood and the tension within it is a different kettle of fish and can be quite harmless.
I shall post some pics when the bow is fully tillered and we'll see how it turns out, (probably post some at the weekend anyway). I can hardly wait to get it done and on the chono' to see how fast it is. I'm trying hard not to press on too fast and spoil it as I am a tad impatient, the Christmas break will hopefully occupy me and slow me down, I need to buy some more string too before I can make a final working string.

I shall make up it's better behaved sister stave and see which is nicest before adding horn nocks and the like.
I'm making the bow for a lady, who might now end up with a choice of two.
I quite fancy one of them for myself to replace my 75 pounder for regular shooting as I struggle with it for more than occaisional use these days. A shortish, lower draw weight, fast longbow would be just the job and a welcomed alternative to my primitive flatbows.

Working the worst stave first is one of my foibles, it allows me to try out the wood without too much pressure, if it works, great, if not, then I'm better prepared for the next piece. I knew this stave wouldn't make a big bow, and the 40 pounder seemed to fit the bill. The other advantage is the sister stave can be made in pretty short order now I've got to grip with the peculiarities of the wood.

Having fought with this stave over the months I can sometimes see the attraction of a nice laminated stave of evenly machined exotic woods.
Ah, but when you feel a lithe, light piece of Yew in your hand, knowing every curve, bump and knot. Knowing you could go back to the very tree it came from, feeling the speed and power which grew into it over the years, its very special, in fact it's unique.
To be fair, I s'pose every bow is unique, but there are some you'd be hard pressed to tell apart.
Oh dear I'm waxing a bit too lyrical here.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Yew Staves

I've been working on last years Yew. The pic shows the various stages of work, de-barking has revealed the sap wood has still got a bit of seasoning to do, so it's good to work the staves down slowly. There are two other staves I haven't started on yet, one is wide and flat which will make a nice flatbow (Meare Heath style) and the other has a rather challenging knot in the centre about 1/4 of the way along, so worst case it may have to be a shorter primitiver rather than a longbow.
Numbering the staves from the left 1 & 3 are sister staves of nice tight grained dark wood, the limb was growing up in the middle of a big old Yew tree in the dark depths of the woods.
#1 has been straightened with steam, whereas #3 still show it's natural deflex, and slight sideways curve. Number one has been rather testing, and if it decides it doesn't want to be a bow I shall put it in the corner of shame and make #3 up in it's place as it is more even but not quite so interesting but still nice and dark tight wood.
The other staves were from the same woodland, but a more open site and faster growing, somewhat coarser grained and paler, they are much straighter. It will be interesting to see how the two timbers perform.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Yew Stave on the Shave Horse.

I'm working on the Yew cut last February, one piece with particularly fine grain is taking a lot of time so I thought I'd give that stave a rest and try my shave horse and rough out onother piece.
I took the quartered stave and chopped the corners off it with an axe and put it on the shave horse.
I wish I hadn't bothered with the axe as the combination of shave horse and drawknife works like a dream.
The stave was held rigid and I could really pull on the drawknife, both slicing and splitting great swathes of wood off, I could really feel the flow of the grain too as the splitting action was following it.
I worked up a good heat too and even removed my woolly hat. It will really speed up those early stages of roughing out, have to watch I don't go too mad and end up with a matchstick instead of a bow.
The drawknife gives a much cleaner finish than the axe too, and because the stave is held firm the accuracy of cut is better too allowing fast but confident work.
This Yew is much coarser grained but still a reasonable colour, it will be interesting to see how they compare performance wise.
I've got a few Yew longbows to make so I need to get a feel for these logs so that I can rough out the bows to somewhere near the right dimensions.

I've prettied up the horse too, adding a clamp block which can pivot loosely on the clamp bar to avoid damaging the workpiece. I've put a wooden knob on one end of the clamp bar and drilled the other end to take a split ring to reatain it.
Actually the split ring is a pain and I've left it off as it's handy to be able to pull the bar in and out to turn the stave.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Shave Horse

Got the shave horse virtually finished.
Here's a couple of pics (I'm using an imaginary spokeshave... very good tool the imaginary spokeshave, never fails).

The clamp bar will have a soft wood block fitting loosely on it to stop it marking the work piece, maybe with some rubber sheet or leather on it.
The bar is a loose fit so that it can be pulled out easilly. I'll probably have it on a chain or string so that it doesn't get lost (same goes for the legs, which just pull out from underneath).

It will doubtless need some adjustments, I can see that when used out doors the pedal is a bit close to the ground and my foot is acting on the top edge so I may take some off the bottom edge.

I haven't tried it out properly yet, it's a bit cold still, but hopefully by next weekend, I'll have it fine tuned and the weather will be a bit kinder.
The foot operated lever is made up of plywood which is glued and nailed into a sort of box section for rigidity. The main pivot is 12mm steel bar and the smaller clamp bar is 8mm.
Other than two lengths of 4x2" it's just stuff that I had in the garage.
For anyone interested in the dimensions and construction, there are more pictures of the shave horse in it's finished state with a tape measuer for reference here:-

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Shave Horse

Nearly finished, the legs are detachable.
The foot operated clamp mechanism hasn't been made yet, I'm experimenting with thin plywood to get the angles and lever lengths right. It will come down either side of the horse and be good and solid, it's just quicker to experiment on a single side for now.
I hope to make the top bar which clamps the work piece quickly adjustable and detachable so the workpiece doesn't need threading awkwardly underneath it.

Saturday, 27 November 2010


It's been too cold to do much bowmaking, I work in my garage which isn't heated, although some of the heating pipes run through it and the boiler is the other side of a brick wall, so it doesn't actually freeze.
Anyhow, I'm going to be making a few longbows now my Yew (from last February) is nearly seasoned. Working on long staves is really awkward, so I've started to make a shave horse.
That's a bench you sit on with a foot operated clamp to hold the work piece, the sort of thing the old beech bodgers would set up in the woods along with a pole lathe when working green wood.
It's coming along nicely so I'll post some pics later.
I looked at various pictures and article on the internet before starting on the project, I even drew it up on the computer, but of course once you start it all loos different and the plans change...afterall, you don't really need legs made of 4x2 do you?!
I've been tinkering with one Yew stave which is a bit of a challenge, it has some twists and turns and it had a couple of small splits, but as I'm slowly working it down it's looking very promising. It's giving me a feel for that batch of wood which seem very nice. I can hardly wait to get it on the horse and press on with it, that's assuming the freeze eases off.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Hard Graft

Whew I've spent most of the morning splitting the biggest log.
It just didn't want to start at one end and was spitting around with rings rather than across. (You can just see what I mean in the pic, bottom left)
The other end eventually started to split, but you can see from the pic it took an axe, sledgehammer and an old axe head used as a starting wedge to set it off.
The original end was still problematic as there were a couple of BIG knots there, so there was a fair bit of axe work to finally separate the two halves.
One half is all big knots and is just waste, the other half will be run through the bandsaw to make two quarters, there should be at least two good staves.

I've tidied up the split face with a power planer to help it run across the bandsaw table without snagging or twisting too much.

Once I've sawn it, I'll paint the ends with PVA and store it for a year.
They say a year per inch of thickness, so the more it's reduced by sawing the quicker it seasons.

You can see the good half is realtively knot free.
Theoretically it could be cut in 3, but there are a couple of old knots in the centre so I'll saw it down the middle which is much easier, it's also better to have two pieces with some spare width to work with, than 3 staves which are too narrow to be any good.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Woo Hoo Yew!

The tree surgeon I spoke to last week turned up with some Yew logs on his lorry. Some were too big and knotty, but I sorted out some which are pretty good, mostly knotty on one side, clear on the other.
A couple are a bit big for the band saw so I'll need to get stuck in with axe and wedges tomorrow, I'll need to paint the ends with PVA too (to prevent them drying too quickly and splitting).

There was one skinny little bent branch which I was going to ignore, but it had a very thin layer of sap wood so it might make a character bow of some sort. A mutually acceptable remuneration was agreed and I now have some potential staves for 2012.

I shall have a good look at them tomorrow, hopefully there should be 1 or 2 staves in each log.
Some of the logs are a scant 6' long where 7 would have been better, but it's certainly a good haul.

Fortune favours the lucky!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Obligatory Full Draw Shot

Full draw in the garden, and the second shot shooting at the camera (on the self timer). Interesting to see the arrow is pointing smack on the lens, yet my eye isn't above the arrow, despite pushing my head over slightly.
Mind, it's difficult being a posed shot, my usual style is probably more hunched over.
There is much discussion on some sites about bows shooting left, aiming points, string picture and suchlike.
With a primitive style anchor to the side of the jaw, I suspect some of the perceived anomalies may be more about eye alignment than some of the other factors.
I'm not much of a shot, but I'd like to think I make some reasonably sensible observations.
The shot also shows the finished binding, the upper one was held lightly in place with a smear of epoxy as it was being whipped on, I didn't then soak it in epoxy as I didn't want it to effect the tiller. A wipe of Danish oil finishes it of nicely.
Being natural linnen thread the binding isn't too obvious or incongruous.
I've put it back on the tiller and it's still 36lb @ 28".

Monday, 15 November 2010

Bit of a bind

I'm not happy with the chrysals on the belly of the Hazel bow.

The performance is fine, it's shooting hard and fast and hasn't taken any more set or reduced in draw weight (36lb @ 28") .

As a precaution I've added a binding of fine linen thread soaked in epoxy over the effected area, this should strengthen and support that area and prevent any further chrysals.

This technique is extremely strong and I've used it before on an Asiatic style recurve which I made a couple of years ago to use up some old Fibreglass and Maple laminations left over from crossbow prod making many years ago.
The binding reinforces the spliced join between the Ash Siyahs (levers) and the bow limbs.

I shall shoot the bow in some more and see how it performs.
It doesn't look too bad and this sort of 'save' is fairly common on primitive bows along with things like rawhide patches and other tricks.
Assuming all is well I may add a matching binding to the upper limb which will look like the sort of thing found on genuine primitive bows.
The Meare Heath bow had criss cross bindings of leather thongs, we don't know if they were purely decorative or had some other significance.

This is the beauty of this blog, you see it warts and all. The bottom line is the bow performance and its longevity. I shall shoot it at the weekend in the open shoot at Celtic Harmony Camp (30 3D targets including a lifesize rubber Tiger!) If it stays shooting as it is at the moment I'll be delighted.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Hazel bow pics

You can see how short the grip is, the heel of my hand wraps over the fade into the lower limb, but it's very comfortable and helps to keep the overall bow length down.

I've added a horn arrow plate and been working on the finish and fiddling with the detail.

I shall be re-checking the tiller and making any tiny adjustments.

A couple of coats of Danish oil have been applied, but these generally get partly removed and they are just to show up the blemishes in the finish and to start sealing the wood.

I'm not being incredibly fussy over the finish as it's a primitive and the grain and underbark surface are an integral part of it.

Once it's had it's final tweaking I'll post the obligatory full draw shot.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Shooting in the Hazel bow.

I've added the horn nocks and got a proper string on it and shot about 100 arrows from the Hazel bow.
It shoots fast and sweet, there are three barely visible chrysals on the belly but I've taken a bit off further down the limb to de-stress that area and even out the curve.

The bow is rather short for it's width and is working very hard, ideally it would have been an inch or two longer and half an inch wider.
But of course it would be no fun to build another bow just like the one on the left, effectively the optimum design for a Hazel flat bow of 35-40 pound draw weight lies somewhere between the two.
You can see from the pic that it hasn't taken much set compared with the slightly wider and longer un-heat treated bow.

I don't know if you can make out the three tiny chrysals on the second pic, the longest is about 10mm long sloping at an angle across the belly.
These are compression fractures and shouldn't cause a problem, as long as they don't grow in length or number, they indicate that the bow was working too hard in that area, the belly wood normally compresses causing some set in the bow, the crysals are a manifestation of too much compression.
Having adjusted the tiller of the bow and topped up the heat treating I shall keep a close eye on that area whilst shooting another 100 arrows or so.
The guys at the club were pretty impressed with it's speed, it seems pretty good for hitting the left over Haloween targets too, my fave was a pumpkin with a skull mask on it.

I might have struck lucky too, a neighbour was having a huge Leylandii cut down so I went and spoke to the tree surgeon who said he might have some decent Yew coming up. Fingers crossed.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Hazel Bow Full Draw

The bow is getting close to it's final weight so I'm working with fine tools and taking care of how it looks.
the back had streaks of dark cambium on it, as I've removed these some have been in deep grooves in the surface of the wood, I've carefully picked these out and revealed some nice character as the pic shows.
Hazel is very plain with virtually no grain visible, so this nice bit of character is very welcomed.

The bow's been back to about 22" and I've shot an arrow from it, there's still a fair way to go and it's only 60" long, hopefully it won't go bang on me but it's the first one I've repeatedly heat treated during tillering so fingers crossed.
Just done some more work and taken it back to 28"...mighty scary.
The string should be a tad shorter and it needs some fiddling and fettling, but it's got there.
Had wondered about a tiny bit of recurve at the tips (flip the tips) but it's taking such a huge curve I don't think I dare!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Teasing out the Yew stave

The Yew stave I started work on (14th October) had developed a few fine cracks.
It feels to be well seasoned and I've just spent a nervous half hour teasing away with a very sharp axe to cut past the cracks to see what was left.
There is some beautiful wood there, but it's now pretty slender on one limb.
I'm aiming for a 40pound bow and it will easily accommodate that, but slim and maybe with a really steeply arched belly in the true longbow shape.
I've run a plane down the limb to smooth it out and it's looking more like bow limb so I've quit whilst ahead, there's plenty of wood at the centre and on the other limb, so I do have a little leeway.
This stave is really pretty, but a bit of a challenge. I get the feeling that it could become a very special bow, or conversely no bow at all!
It's definitely one for the softly softly softly approach, plenty of looking and thinking, and hold back on the wood removal.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Hazel Bow, more tillering and heat treatment.

The Hazel bow is progressing nicely, it's been rough tillered, heat treated, tillered some more, heat treated again. I've just finished more tillering and a third heat treatment.
This last tillering has got the string shortened to a low brace height (about 2-3") and the bow drawing back to about 22" at 32 pounds so it's getting close. The bow had taken a tiny bit of set, so I've clamped it anto a length of 2x2 with a bit of 1/4" ply under the grip whilst heat treating it this time just to encourage it to stay pretty straight.
It will be interesting to see how much set it has in the finished bow, hopefull less than my non-heat treated Hazel bow.
I just thought, I'm making the grip assymetric and right handed...I hope the guy it's for is right handed!!
There's still time to adjust it, let's hope he reads this!

The pic shows it's begining to look like a bow, I've dtrung it, but it needs another day or so before I draw it after the heat treatment.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Dead Standing Timber

There is plenty of discussion about the value of timber that is standing dead. Silver Birch will just crumble in your hand whereas Oak may be rock solid in the middle.

Along the cycle track just a bow shot from our house are loads of wild plum trees, I noticed slim trunk was dead, it was about 12-15' tall. When I sawed it down the top 6' just smashed into pieces.

I'm pretty sure it's plum but it does look a bit like Cherry. The bark had insect holes in it and some of the outer wood was rotten, however running it through the band saw has produced two nice lengths of about 2x1". The ends were worst and there is still some dodgy wood along the edges. You can see in the end the obvious difference between the sound wood in the middle and the rotten outer stuff, the insect holes tend to go in and then along and don't penetrate right into the centre.

I'll let it season (well away from my decent staves) and see how it turns out. You can see how attractive the wood is, and even if there isn't a bow there it will have decorative uses elsewhere, maybe laminated with other woods for built up handles or carving. It would have been hard work to clean up without a power saw, but it shows what you can find lurking in the hedgerows.

Saturday, 30 October 2010


I've taken the belly of the Hazel bow down with a spokeshave until flexed a good bit when I pushed against the grip with one end against the floor and the other end held in my other hand (this is known as floor tillering). I then put it on the tiller with the string adjusted so it would just go onto the bow. I've pulled it a bit to adjust it to a vaguely even flex on each limb, just 2 or 3 inches tip deflection. I don't want to bend it too much and make it take a set (permanent bend). I'll heat treat it now and then get back to tillering after giving a few days rest. Meanwhile I've narrowed the grip area a bit, just roughing it out.

I'm deliberately making it very assymetric so that it really sits nicely in the hand, and provides an accurate location for the arrow pass whilst still shooting off the hand rather than an arrow shelf.
I did this on my Ash/Cherry bow and it felt really comfortable.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Working on the Hazel from early August.

The Hazel I harvested on August 6th has been drying nicely, the log was sawn in two with the best half with the flattest crown retained for a big wide flatbow. The other half was sawn to give two quarters, one of these has been roughed out and seasoned quicker on a warm radiator in a spare room. Hazel seems to respond well to this treatment without warping, or cracking.
I've marked it out as a bow about 60" long, it was going to be 2" wide near the grip tapering straight down to about 1/2 an inch.
The grain runs at a very slight angle so I've move the centreline of the bow to compensate and keep it as straight as possible, this lost a little width, (it's about 1.75" now) so it will be a good bit slimmer than my trusty old 'bark on' Hazel bow (more pics of that bow on my website).
I intend to heat treat it so the reduced width and consequent increased thickness hopefully won't lead to excessive set.
I'm aiming at nominally 40 pounds at 28" . As the bow will be pretty short I might see if I can get it to flex through the handle (which would be very tricky), or at least have a very minimal grip to maximise the working limb length. I'll be aiming for a nice full arc of a circle tiller shape at full draw.
This will be a new bow shape for me, I shall keep the underbark surface as the back or the bow and have a flattish belly (I won't decrown this one).

The stave has a slight reflex at the moment, doubtless it will lose this during tillering, contrast this with the Hazel flatbow which has followed the string (31/4") and needed that mug put under the grip to support it for the photo. It will be interesting to contrast the two when it's finished.
The Hazel is a joy to work compared with the hard intransigent Ash of the last flatbow (talking of which, I must sew the leather grip back on).
I've done all the roughing out with my axe, then a spokeshave, it's cuts fine and clean, there is a little tearing at knots or when running against the grain but it's more like slicing a nice firm cheese...mmmm that's making me hungry now.
There are some fine streaks of the cambium layer still on the back of the stave, some of these are in fine grooves in the wood surface. I may leave them in the finished bow, I'll see how it scrapes and sands down.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Arrow Speed Testing

I spent some time in the garage shooting through the chronometer, it's a bit tricky to get consistent results as the arrows are still flexing at short range.

The Ash Meare Heath style bow is fast, 147.3fps (that's just over 100mph) which is pretty good for a 36 pound bow (just measured it on the tiller after final scraping and finishing), probabaly my most efficient bow in terms of arrow speed /draw weight.
You can see how the heat treatment has accentuated the grain in a striking manner.

The Yew Longbow was 150.3fps (102.4mph)

Good News Bad News

The Yew stave I roughed on Thursday has developed a few cracks, annoyingly near that nice ripple. That side of the stave will need removing. I've got plenty of length to play with so I should be able to position the bow within the stave to avoid any problem areas. It's had about 8 months seasoning and is still shifting, I've de-barked it now and as it's been thinned a bit it should settle down soon. That's the nature of this game do a bit, leave it a month, do a bit...

The Ash Meare Heathe bow is now heat treated and has had since last Friday to re-acclimatise so I shall string it and see how it goes, lets just hope it doesn't snap like a dry stick (after all, that' s what it is!) I'll post some pics over the weekend.
Ah well I've just strung it, the tiller still needed some adjustment on the lower limb, so I took yet more wood off, but the draw weight is now above 40 pounds! The bow has very little set in it and it shoots fast, I can scarecely believe it, I'm now rather embarrassed by my scepticism.
It may still settle down so I musn't get carried away, the bottom line is I've removed wood and gained draw weight, so it's pretty much got to be faster. I shall have to try it on the next Hazel bow I build, I can see I'm going to be running around heat treating everything I see...Ooooh coffee table let's blast that with the heat gun.

I shall take the finished longbow to the club and shoot it in some more, hopefully the guy I've made it for will be there.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Busy weekend

I've finished off the Yew yeoman's bow, plain and simple no horn nocks, no arrow plate, 52 pounds at 28", but it can come back well beyond that. The slight S shape in the bow still shows at full draw and there is a nice bit of character to it. I marked the arrow pass with a simple split circle which sort of represents a C and a D for Del the Cat (my nom de plume on the archery websites).
I bought a heatgun to experiment on the Ash Meare Heath bow which went skew whiff on me. It's digitally adjustable to give decent control (£30 from Screwfix). I clamped the weak limb flat to a piece of 2x2 and started heating it at 200 degrees C, it didn't do much and I slowly increased the heat, I found I could toast it to a light golden brown at 350-400C. My previous failed attempts at heat treating had been too hot too fast.

I left the bow for a day while I went to an NFAS open shoot at Avalon Archers in Bedfordshire.
A great day out, up hill and down dale in the woods, a beautiful setting and a really well organised shoot. There were some great longshots down hill through the trees which I missed, (tricky with the soft trajectory of the 40 pound Hazel primitive bow I was using).
My best shot was a first arrow inner kill on a Bobcat at about 30yards...
There were all sorts of bows there, there were a few other primitives there, plenty of longbows and recurves. I hadn't seen compounds shoot before, not my thing, but they were very impressive, so fast you could barely see the arrow go.

Today I've unclamped Ash bow, the limb is now dead straight and decidedly stiffer than the untreated limb. I shall now do the other limb and see how it stands up to the tiller.
It looks very promising.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Some early roughing out.

Last February Big Sis and I cut a couple of Yew logs one crisp frosty glorious sunny morning.
One I quartered, the other was slightly triangular in cross section so I sawed one flat face off to become a Yew flatbow. The remainder was problematic, do I make one bow or try to cut it and get two? I left it until now.

A few days ago I ran it through the bandsaw to maximise the use of some wonderful tight thin sapwood, it was cutting it a bit fine dimensionally. A lady wants me to make her a 40 pound draw weight Yew bow and I thought I could see one in there.
Of course you don't get owt for nowt and the price I paid was a bent stave (across the bow not fore/aft) . Well half an hour in the steamer and a few G clamps soon sorted that out.
I'd been having sleepless night thinking about how to cut it, straighten it and would the resulting stave still be thick enough for a bow. It's been worth the effort.
It's gorgeous, I couldn't resist running a plane over it to show the wood, and it hasn't darkened with age yet!

The pic is taken in artificial light and the red doesn't show so well, but even with my dodgy red/green colour vision (like a lot of men) I can see the red in it.

I love that wiggle by the knot half way up, it will be a nice feature in the finished bow. The grain is nice and close too. I havn't taken the bark off yet and it's got some more seasoning to do. I shall worry away at it, doing a little here and there and de barking it, I might even give it a go on my extra long barely warm radiator in the spare room.
I think it's going to be a gorgeous bow, and hopefully fast too.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Tiller shift

I was flaberghasted yesterday, but today I've re-worked the Ash bow a bit and had some input from the guys on Primitive Archer, they've met this sort of thing before, so I'm not going mad.

The bow is down to about 30pounds draw weight now but looking much smoother, I might shorten it or try heat treating it, a process I've not used before and am slightly sceptical about. Native people heat treat wood in the embers of a fire to harden it, and some bowyers swear by it.
A hot air gun is the modern way, I've tried a test on a bit of Hazel and it didn't seem to work, but maybe I'll give it a go. It sounds a bit hit and miss though.
It's discusssed in the Traditional Bowyers Bible Vol 4. Maybe I'll ask Santa to buy it for me.

I've had a look at my Hazel staves and have de-barked one to make a replacement bow... if you fall of the horse, you've just gotta get straight back on.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

I Can't believe it...

I was going to sign the Meare Heath style Ash bow and put on the draw weight/length, so I put it up on the tiller to check the figures.
I couldn't believe it, it looked horrible, the lower limb seemed to be bending too much near the handle, not actually a 'hinge' but it looked like something made by a beginner, and it had lost a little draw weight.
The bow has been shot a fair bit over the last two weeks and has performed fine, there's so sign of excessive set, chrysalling or damage. I've no idea why it's shifted like this, anyhow, I've adjusted the limbs a bit to even them out but it's lost about 10 pounds of draw weight in the process.
It's destined to be extensively re-worked I think.
This just goes to show that we all get bitten on the backside now and again. I'm very glad I hadn't sold it, because if it had been returned to me in this state I'd have thought it had been badly overdrawn or otherwise abused.
This bowmaking is a constant learning process, but this episode hasn't enhanced my opinion of Ash.
Give me Yew or Hazel any day.
Oh yes, and if anyone who reads this has had a similar experience with a bow please contact me!

Steamed it.

To help increase the draw weight and to give me more chance for final tillering I've steamed the lower limb to match the upper one, there is no overall reflex.
I does give it a slight look of being reflex deflex, but I've only steamed the lower limb (left one in the pic), you can compare it with yesterday's post.
I'll leave it for a week to dry out before bending it on the tiller again, but in the mean time I can clean up the back which is the under bark surface of the log and has some nice character.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Yew Longbow

I've been tillering the Yew longbow which I roughed out about a month ago.
Very soon it was back to 28". I could scarcely believe it, the bow is very much thicker than my 75lb longbow which I used a a guide for roughing out, yet the draw weight is barely 55lb, I was aiming for 60.
There is always much debate about the merits of English Yew, and this illustrates the variability. I'm not going to draw conclusions from just two bits of wood but I shall record my observations.
My favourite 75lb bow has very clearly defined heart/sap wood and is closer grained than the piece I'm working on. The 75lb was cut from heathland, the one I'm working on cut from wet fetile soil where it was probably planted as screen to disguise a carpark 50 odd years ago, maybe it's a faster growing variety? The one I'm working on has poorly defined heart/sap wood, on one side of the bow it shows, but on the other it is more diffuse.
There is a huge difference in the relative strength of the two samples, however the wood still works nicely and has plenty of spring.
If you looked at the two and was asked to pick out the strongest bow based on it's dimensions you'd pick the wrong one.

The stave has a bit of an 'S' shape to it with one limb reflexed a tad and the other strongly deflexed, I shall steam the deflexed limb to straight and hopefully get back to the 60lb I was aiming at. The deflexed limb is to the left... be honest that bow does look pretty fat for a 55 pounder doesn't it!

I'm begining to see why some people have said it's hard to make a high draw weight warbow from English Yew, maybe they had a piece like this.

I shall try and keep an open mind and it just goes to show the joy of working with natural material.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Busy Weekend

Finished a dozen self nocked arrows for a forthcoming primitive shoot and continued tidying the garage.
I made a bow rack which lifts my bows off the floor, which was slightly damp in the corner. I made good use of some scrap timber and offcuts of carpet.
The picture is slightly posed, and I somehow managed to chop the sting of my Chinese repeating crossbow in half as I was tidying (there is a lot of leverage and the string must have got caught by the mechanism).

The self nocked arrows seemed to fly particularly well from the Ash Meare Heath bow, I'd used slighly weaker spined shafts this time and I found my point of aim was no longer a tad right as it had been and I had to stop shooting after 5 arrows for fear of doing a 'Robin Hood' and splitting one of the arrows or ruining a nock.

My refurbished arrows seem to be fine too. I don't think I've ever had so many arrows before. Happiness is a full quiver!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Arrow Refurb'

the arrow splicing was a big success, I've now got 6 nice refurbished arrows just waiting for their piles.
I stopped bothering with the alignment jig as it meant I could only do one at a time. Instead I just bound the two parts together with the whipping twine I use for serving my bowstrings (I get it from a local boat chandler, and it's cheaper than 'proper' serving thread).
You have to watch out for the two halfs slipping slightly appart if they are being bound too tightly, but once one wide spaced layer of binding is on it holds it all firmly in alignment and a bit of extra binding can be done at the extremities of the splice where the wood is V thin.
I'm making up some 'primitive' arrows for a forthcoming shoot, they will be the same as my usual arrows but with self nocks cut in with my bandsaw. It took ages to get the bandsaw set up, I was messing about changing blades but it was worth it in the end as it gave a nice consistent cut, they will need finishing by hand with a file of course.
I had a bit of confusion putting on the new bandsaw blade, I suddenly noticed I'd put it on with the teeth pointing up! What??? So I took it off and put it back with the teeth pointing down as they should, but then the teeth were at the back of the bandsaw??!!! Double what?? How on earth??? Then it dawned on me the blade must have uncoiled inside out, so I grasped it firmly with both hand and twisted it inside out on itself with a satisfying 'ping...boing'.
After that it was all straight forward and the blade ran nice and true.
It was one of those strange double take moments and a quirk of topology.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Splicing Arrows.

'Crack' that horrible sound when you tread on an arrow you were searching for. I have a vast supply of broken arrows, "I'll make a jig for splicing them" I thought.

Ho hum, After messing about for ages drilling and sawing a chunk of Oak I'd made a jig which would do one half of a 'V' splice but not the other. Grrrr, one of those silly irritating topological mistakes which is glaringly obvious with hindsight.. .
I gave up on that and made a quick jig which would make just one long oblique cut, it includes a screw which will grip down onto the shaft while it's being cut (one of the problems with the mk1), holding it with the grain lined up in the same direction on each half of the new arrow.
I also made a jig to hold the two parts together as the glue dries.

You can see the failed jig on the left, a bit of shaft in the later jig secured ready for sawing, and a sawn shaft which had a broken tip. (You will notice of course that it was a nice new clean arrow, they seem to be the ones which break easiest!)

The arrow being glued is bound with a rubberband to hold it while the 'Araldite' (precision) cures. I might pull the bench lamp down close to it to warm it up and hasten the curing process, or just leave it overnight.

I have spliced arrows with a new footing before in the classic V style, but it's a pain in the backside and rather longwinded, a jig to hold 'em straight is pretty essential too.
I wanted something I could use quickly to give arrows a new lease of life for field shooting as it can consume a fair few of 'em. I'll keep the spliced ones as 'second best' .

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Ash Bow

The video hasn't downloaded properly, so here are some stills for now.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Shooting it in

It's virtually finished now, but it needs a few little tweaks to get the grip feeling right before I cover it with leather.
I'm not quite 100% happy with the tiller, so I'll take a few scrapes off the end of the lower limb to make that flex a whisker more, it's really just a bit of fiddling and fettling.
In the pic you can see I'm not actually at dull draw (about an inch and a half short) as my back is still a bit sore and I'm not really pushing that left arm right out or getting that right elbow fully back.

That was yesterday, I've fettled the bow a bit now and it's shooting much sweeter, but to be honest I can't tell whether that's due to my me warming up (I havn't shot for about a month) or the tiny bit of work of work I've done on the bow.
It's easy to shoot one good group and think with fond imagination that you've done something marvelous to the bow, whereas really you've just relaxed.
It's been frustrating and I've had to work in short bursts. Doing the inlaid Waterbuffalo horn arrow plat was spread over 3 days where normally it's about 45minutes work spread over a morning.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


I've ricked my back! I was hoping to get the bow finished to shoot last Sunday, but I have been busy, then I went and ricked my back so I've got to take it very easy for a few days. The irony is I first twinged it simply bending to pickup a saw whilst kneeling on the floor, so I took it easy, the thing that really seized it up was sitting still at a desk when I went into work!

Anyhow here are some pics showing how far I've got, the 'flame' grain on the belly near the handle is rather attractive, this can be compared to the back where the grain runs much more along the bow and less across it.

I've done the nocks in my usual style, only one limb has had a wipe of Danish oil so far.
It needs the arrow pass, a decent string and a leather grip doing yet.

These are all hunched over back stressing jobs so they'll have to wait.

I've shot a few arrows, I think it's probably a little slower than the Hazel flat bow being longer and having more 'safety factor' built in. I havn't drawn it past 28" but I'm confident it would go back to 30" . It's only been shot with my heavy tillering string with the wooden toggle on, so it may get a bit quicker, I feel it would be a solid reliable companion to a Neolithic man although my finishing would possibly be considered fussy.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Nearly There

The last part of the tillering is just as slow, unless you neglect to use finer tools in which case there is a danger of overdoing it. The final finish is also a consideration so a finer rasp and files give a more appropriate finish.
The pic shows my tillering marks, I just slash across where wood needs to come off and put W on any weak points. The weak points aren't real faults by this stage, and the mark just shows that the bow is bending enough there. I use a fine/medium rasp to remove the pencil marks and then put it back on the tiller.
You can see my original W is now a point where I need to remove a little wood, this shows I've done a good job in evening out the limb.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Part 5

I've solved the problem of the video being compressed!
It was caused by editing the video with Microsoft Movie Maker (Aren't MS products wonderful? [cough splutter])
Anyhow, to redo the other videos would be too much hard work.
They are all posted on my website now with their own page "Tillering Videos" including pt5.
I'm not going to duplicate them here. The website address is shown under 'About me' at the left. Or just google 'Delsbows'.
When it's completed I'll post some stills on this blog.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Part 4

I've just noticed that the video clips look slightly compressed from side to side which is making the bow look shorter on the tiller and the bend more extreme.
I'll maybe chalk a square on the wall so I can check. If there is distortion, I'll see if I can adjust it.
Anyhow, it's begining to flex quite a lot now and I'll be proceeding with care, using just rasps now and trying to fine tune the curve.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Part 3

Oooh I'm getting excited, can't wait for the next part... I hope it has a happy ending.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Next installment

A little progress:-

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Tillering Video 1

I've had a fair bit of E-mail on the subject of tillering so I thought I'd try to show in video what it's about.
The bow I'm working on is the Ash Meare heath style flatbow shown in earlier posts.
Here's a link to the video:-

I did try to stick the video directly in here, but it seemed to take ages and snag up.
Maybe I'll try again for part 2, which I'll do as the bow progresses.
Meanwhile, I'm sure clicking the link won't be too tiresome for you all!
Let's try embedding the video. Ooooh, that seemed to work ok.

Friday, 27 August 2010

bank Holiday Weekend

I've finished the drawers at last so I can have a good tidy up of the garage and get back to working on bows. There's a big Primitive Crafts event at the club (Celtic Harmony Camp) over the long weekend I'll go along one of the days and help with the have-a-go Archery, I always find it uplifting how well people generally take to it and enjoy it.
I think it's ingrained in some primitive part of our psyche.
It amuses that on some archery websites the modern target archers go into minute details of aiming and 'form' yet the one thing you never need to instruct anyone is how to aim... they just seem to get it. Mind I s'pose it's not rocket science, you don't need to tell anyone how to point a stick, although, having said that some creatures (notably cats) don't understand the concept of pointing at something...just as well the don't shoot bows I s'pose.
Enough whimsey!

Monday, 23 August 2010


I was hoping to do some tillering this weekend, but I built the camera mount, then I found my bandsaw was slightly in the shot.

I needed a good clear out, but as I started I found some plywood and thought I could make some drawers for my archery stuff which is all over the place at the mo'.
Wouldn't it be nice to have a draw for 5/16" fittings, one for 11/32", one for string making materials etc?
I've been meaning to do it for ages, I measured up and decided to go for 7 drawers (I was trying to think of some sort of bad 'Snow White and the seven drawers' joke [groan] but couldn't come up with anything).

Anyhow the drawers are progressing, they're a bit rough and ready, but it's used up some scrap, hasn't cost a penny and will result in an increased coefficient of garage tidiness. It's not taking too long as I could do most of the cutting on my table saw or bandsaw.

Here's some pics, now I was going to use my little 'snap' camera to take a pic of my decent camera on the mount, but of course the batteries were flat! So the little 'un is on the mount instead.
It doesn't really show, but the mount is adjustable in tilt and pan for alignment. Very rough and ready again, but it does the job and I couldn't get a tripod into that position. The knob which screws up into the camera is just an old bolt with some big plywood washers glued onto it and then turned on my "poor man's lathe" (The pillar drill), I think it adds a sadly needed touch of class.